Dear Parishioners and friends,
Our church buildings will remain closed until the 28th of October by government decree. As this is the case, I offer you a recorded and written reflection here which outlines some of my thinking over these last three months.
For the audio version of these reflections please click here
This week, I would like to share with you what has been on my heart for some time now.
Among the qualities that I value in this wonderful place in which Heidi and I have come to live is the almost palpable sense of community and its shared sense of caring, shown by parishioners, neighbours, and the wider Ballydehob community -- a characteristic rather unique in our combined life experiences. Over and again, we witness people of this community exemplifying what it means to be the body of Christ: whether comforting bereaved members of the community – even recent “blow-ins” -- collecting messages for someone who is unable, taking a moment to genuinely show interest in another, volunteering for and supporting charity events and festivals, and a myriad of other displays of kindness and generosity, providing privileged moments in which the Spirit of Christ is encountered in tangible and even life changing ways.
When this virus first loomed as a threat amongst us back in early February and March, the first thing that struck me was the fear – not just of illness or even death, but of one another’s opinions and of elements of our worship services that stretched back generations.
Among the first casualties was the ability to gather to demonstrate and live out our appreciation and love of our Lord God, who asks that we cast our cares upon Him that He might sustain us (Ps 55:22). Soon after came the imposition of dramatic changes to the already somewhat distanced life here in rural Ireland -- a harsh blow to community life. We were forbidden to support one another in the ways needed, to reach out to one another, to embrace one another. All the demonstrable qualities by which people care for one another were stripped from us in exchange for fear. Fear of what a virus might do; fear of unabated loneliness, of being without purpose; fear of financial distress, of what might befall loved ones; fear of one another, of a “new normal,” even of petting dogs.
Fear is what I saw dominating people’s hearts and minds from the early days of lockdown, and yet, it states clearly in 1 John 4:18 that There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. There is no more perfect love than God Himself, and yet too few (including Christians) seemed aware of this powerful truth. Please understand me, I am not speaking about whether or not one receives the cup, or shakes hands, or wears a mask, or socially distances. This is not about whether or not to take precautions – it is about choosing to walk in fear when, as Christians, we have the option -- the invitation – to be set free from the bondage of fear. If any of my parishioners are in ignorance on this, then as the “shepherd” of my flock, I fear I have been negligent.
With concern for your own well-being, and noting the hints that lockdowns might be a recurring possibility, it seemed vitally important that when lockdown restrictions allowed us to gather again for public worship, I focus on imparting key truths – promises – of God’s Word and the grace that He extends to us through Christ Jesus, that you each would be all the better equipped to withstand another possible lockdown. It was for this reason, and not for the sake of brevity, that, after prayer and consultation with other clergy and much consideration, I set aside familiar traditional services, selected those aspects which would focus our attention on the truth of who God is and wants to be for us, and tailored every prayer and hymn and sermon to point toward trusting in, turning toward, and hoping in Him as Creator, Protector, and Sustainer.
Though it was never my intention, I fully expected my decision would be uncomfortable for some – it was new ground for every one of us.
The fact is that we were and are again, unable to partake in our traditional expressions of faith – those we grew up with or have adopted as our own. During such times when we are isolated from our faith community, it is not possible to draw strength from our familiar and comfortable religious customs and rituals. Perhaps that is why in Colossians 2:8 St. Paul warns us about following human traditions and concepts of this world, and not following Christ. Underlying our faith traditions and customs is a reality that is more profound and too often overlooked: God’s fervent desire – as outlined throughout scripture -- for a personal relationship with each individual one of us in which He is the one whom we turn to in our need, trust in when we are unsure, and walk with every moment of every day. We must, in faith, hold God’s promises as true, and live them as true, if we are going to come through the current situation with a right-mind, and one staid upon the Lord. If you do not stand firm in your faith, you will not stand at all. (Isaiah 7:9)
Three weeks ago, the government shifted the entire nation to Level 3, mandating the cessation of church services. Once again, we are made starkly aware of how our communal gatherings, our in-person, face-to-face meetings, enrich us. Faith communities, in particular, created in and around our churches are a privileged opportunity where we, as Christians, can build one another up. No amount of electrically-transmitted spiritual motivation, holy talk or encouraging words provides a true substitute for gatherings with others with whom we share a life of faith and can support, encourage, and nourish one another in the midst of life’s many unexpected challenges and blessings. However, even these fall short of a personal and meaningful relationship with our Lord and are rendered meaningless without a foundation in Him. I cannot urge you enough to start picking up your Bibles and reading them, asking the Holy Spirit to reveal God’s truths to you.
During the past week, our country moved into Level 5 lockdown, increasing restrictions, divisions within communities and families, and placing additional hardships on isolated individuals. The government currently allows church doors to remain open for private devotion only, with the exceptions of weddings and funerals, which can accommodate up to 25, in addition to the clergy. Living across from St. Matthias in Ballydehob, Heidi and I will resume opening the church on a daily basis. I will not be moving services online as so many parishioners are unable to avail of such conveniences. Regrettably, I have received instructions from the diocese insisting that I ought not to visit nor be visited and that all communications with parishioners (including funeral arrangements) be conducted over the phone. Keep in mind, that it has always been and remains a personal priority to be available to anyone who needs me in the capacity of a rector. I will, endeavour to continue sending out reflections, to resume contacting parishioners by phone, and to be available to you as best as I am able. Also, please understand that I have not been forbidden from talking to anyone I happen to encounter as I am out walking, posting letters, returning from the school (where I continue to instruct the children), collecting messages at Camier’s, in Schull or in Skibbereen, having a moment of private devotion, or opening or closing the church.
Please, if you are not already on the Ballydehob Union WhatsApp group, let me know if you would like to be added. For those of you already participating, I would ask that responses to postings be made directly to the individual who has posted and not to the entire group. If you are receiving duplicate communications from me on different platforms, please let me know if you have a single preferred means of receiving reflections and church-related information.
Below are two web-links, which I encourage you to have a look at. Each assists you in understanding the relationship of the Church to God’s Word, and to the salvation afforded all God’s people in Jesus Christ.
Meanwhile, I pray for your wellbeing, for the increase of your faith, and that Christ’s strength and joy abide in you in the days and weeks ahead. Let us all pray for the continued wellbeing of our parish and church community.
God bless you,
Tel. (028) 37117
If you would like to see other reflections written by the Rector you may find them here: http://tommystuppence.blogspot.com
If you would like to hear some of Steve's sermons online then please click here
Covid 19 Prayers